While much fuss has been made over the new Assassin's Creed
title to hit the latest generation of consoles, not so much has been said about its Xbox 360 counterpart, Assassin's Creed Rogue
. With a different protagonist and a different story to tell, Ubisoft hasn't really innovated with Rogue
like it has done with Unity
. Instead, the franchise goes back to basics by removing all of the multiplayer modes and sending players on a solo journey through the hostile environment of the North Atlantic during the 18th Century Seven Years War. Is it a journey worth taking?
The sequel to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
puts players in the shoes of Irish assassin Shay Cormac, a fairly recent recruit to the Assassin Brotherhood and a person who is prone to letting his insubordination temper his progress. With the aid of a Precursor artifact and a manuscript, Shay is sent on an important mission to retrieve a Piece of Eden, a mission that goes horribly wrong. To prevent any more harm, Shay steals the manuscript and defects from the Assassins. Upon realising that the Assassins still pose a threat to both himself and the general public, Shay joins the Templar cause to try and bring his old allies to a halt.
Shay is not a man who blindly follows instructions like a trained Assassin. He struggles with the idea that the Greater Good may not be all that it seems; he's a man with a conscience. Playing the story through the eyes of your age-old adversaries the Templars initially seems to promise a different take on the franchise. Unfortunately, it seems like the Templars and Assassins just trade roles at the same time as Shay changes sides. Shay's former colleagues move away from their usual dedicated targets and resort to mass murder as long as it gets the job done. The Templars, meanwhile, become extremely picky over who lives and who dies. You eventually get to the point where you forget that you're no longer an Assassin as there's little difference between your initial role as an Assassin and your new role as a Templar.
This lack of difference also extends to the gameplay. After all, Shay was initially trained to be an Assassin, therefore his role as a Templar is carried out in the only way that he knows. It is a way that you, the player, may also know well. The game's story and protagonist may be different to Black Flag
, but the gameplay certainly is not. In fact, this game could have easily taken a leaf out of the book written by Square Enix and been called Assassin's Creed IV-2: Rogue
. As before, Shay moves around his environments with ease and the environment has convenient free-running points so that his runs are supposedly seamless. The problem is that these free-running points don't always work too well. Shay will sometimes miss his handholds the first time and come to a shuddering halt while his target disappears into the distance. At other times they work too well. Players will often find themselves scaling ladders or diving into haystacks that they had the misfortune of brushing against while passing at speed. They're problems that existed in Black Flag
and they still persist in Rogue
Shay manages to find himself a vessel, the Morrigan, as early as Sequence 1. This is because he needs it -- the map is massive and is split into three sections. As a result, players will spend a fair amount of time sailing the seas. By the start of sequence three, players will be able to freely travel across all parts of the map, although some activities do remain off-limits until key points are reached in the story. As well as the story missions, there are many things to do on land. Some activities, such as hunting, will be familiar, but newer activities like restorations and gang hideouts (a cross between a naval fort and an outpost) do keep things somewhat fresh.
There are plenty of things to do at sea too and only the most focused of players will manage to make it to their destination without becoming distracted by the things going on around you. Harpooning, naval convoys and legendary battles will all be familiar, while prison convoys return from the "Freedom Cry" DLC. Shipwrecks have been removed as the icy water in the North Atlantic prevents swimming for prolonged lengths of time, but these haven't been replaced with anything new. While still fun, these activities are just a little too familiar.
Before you breathe a sigh of relief too quickly, the plethora of collectibles also return. Animus fragments, treasure chests, shanties, letters and treasure maps (now Templar maps) all return. The Mayastelae are now known as Native Pillars. There are some new game-specific collectibles too. While some do provide in-game rewards, the majority seem to be there just for the sake of providing a reason to explore the many locations on the map, which would otherwise be vacant without them. The good news is that they are all marked on the map once a player synchronises the nearest viewpoint. The bad news is that only completionists are likely to visit every location and grab all of these items as the game itself gives you very little incentive to do so.
Of course, it wouldn't be an Assassin's Creed
game without the need to return to the present day and a familiar Abstergo office. You happen to be the latest nameless recruit who has introduced a virus into the system while exploring Shay's DNA. Together with two tech support staff members, you must restore the servers and fix all of the computers. Unfortunately, one of the tech support members has a dislike for you. After being called a numbskull for the gazillionth time, you are left disappointed by the fact that you're not able to commit a modern day murder, or even hurt her a little bit. She is easily the most irritating character in the entire game. Luckily, players don't need to spend much time here if they do not wish to do so. The lack of solid protagonist means that these sections do little other than add background information to the story if you feel like reading all of the information that comes up on the screen.
The Abstergo office may well be the only location that returns in both name and appearance, but there are several others whose appearance will seem all too familiar, especially the smaller locations that only contain collectibles. There is very little difference between an island in the Atlantic and an island in the Caribbean according to Ubisoft. If you're lucky, a passing weather front may add a layer of snow to your haystack, and the pelicans are now disguised as penguins, but the trees, beaches and stalk zones look the same. You'll even see several familiar faces making a return, and not just from Black Flag
. The problem is that the developer assumes that you already know who these people are and they rely on that to make you feel attached to the characters. Aside from Shay, very little character development is offered to any of the NPCs within the game, so many characters are forgettable.
Even the game's achievement list is fairly similar to Black Flag
, although the absence of multiplayer achievements will lessen the frustration. The vast majority are tied to the game's story, side missions, collectibles and upgrades, with a handful tied to the gameplay itself. They will require a fair investment of time, although none are too difficult and it is not a requirement to find and do everything that the game has to offer. Long gone are the days where players must find every collectible in existence, which can only be a blessing bearing in mind just how many collectibles this game offers.
Aside from a few visual bugs and the odd agile guard that hasn't yet worked out how to climb down a ladder, players can spend many unhindered hours doing what Assassins
Templars do best in Assassin's Creed Rogue
. The main issue is that it has borrowed so much from Black Flag
. What should have been a definitive sendoff for the franchise on the Xbox 360 has fallen a bit flat due to its recycled and somewhat stale nature. Don't get me wrong, Rogue
is a perfectly playable title and will please completionists with its achievements, but you are left wishing for some of that innovation that its Unity
counterpart received when you are faced with the same things over and over again.The reviewer spent over 25 hours roaming the North Atlantic, although this only managed to rack up a completion percentage of 44%. This also only awarded 12 of the game's 46 achievements. The reviewer still has a lot of murderin' and pillagin' to do. An Xbox 360 copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of this review.